As mentioned in last week’s column a re-enactment of the old Nova Scotia pony express run of 1849 will take place in early autumn. Thanks to Ivan Smith of Canning, I have an update about the events that will take place to mark the pony express anniversary.
The celebration will involve numerous communities and organizations throughout the Annapolis Valley. The re-enactment of the run will see riders galloping through the Valley along #1 highway, which was part of the original route. As I mentioned, the organizers of the anniversary hope to include a proclamation from Queen Elisabeth, which will be carried by the riders participating in the re-enactment.
To give you an overview of the re-enactment and to answer questions you may have about the short-lived pony express, extracts follow from the update received from Mr. Smith.
Why a pony express in Nova Scotia in 1849? “The Associated Press (AP) had been formed in 1848 by six leading New York newspapers to pool their efforts in speeding international news, and had invested significantly in the extension of the telegraph from the U.S. to Saint John, New Brunswick. The challenge was to get the dispatches from the docks of Halifax to the telegraph office in Saint John in the least possible time. The answer: To run a ‘pony express’ overland to Victoria Beach on the Bay of Fundy and carry dispatches on a fast chartered steamboat to Saint John.”
The Celebration: “The Pony Express Sesquicentennial Committee has been formed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of this colorful event. A number of municipalities and historical organizations are represented along the route. Celebrations are expected at the dockside when the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 11 docks at Halifax on the 28th of September.
“A total of around 12 celebrations will occur along the historical route, with Hants County celebrating on the 30th, Kings County on the 1st of October, and Annapolis County on the 2nd of October. Town Criers will read messages and proclamations, (and) there will be historical exhibits.
“A highlight of the celebration will be a re-enactment run by horses and riders over the entire 144 mile route, with stops at various scheduled ceremonies. The accent throughout will be a safe run.”
The original Pony express run: “The route was along the old Post Road, roughly the route of Highway 1 today. The AP paid the then enormous sum of US$1000 for each of the 20 runs. The service started on the 21st of February 1849 and ended on the 15th of November 1849 when the telegraph was completed from Saint John to Halifax.
“The horses were the finest available and the run was made at high speed day and night. The 144 miles were covered by a relay of two riders, changing in Kentville, on a total of 12 horses for each run. The average time was eight hours for the run, so each rider covered about 72 miles in just four hours. For comparison, the Halifax-Victoria Beach trip takes around three hours by car today, using high speeds and limited access roads such as the 101.”
That the runs were made “night and day” made it a hazardous undertaking and the rider on the pony express had many mishaps. From the press release: “Horse and rider were lucky another time. A rider at night was astonished when his horse gave a mighty leap (of 18 feet) while crossing a stream at Lower Horton. What the horse had seen, and the rider had not, was that the swing bridge was not in place that night.”